After losing four straight games, the Miami Hurricanes finally got back on track last weekend. They defeated the Pittsburgh Panthers 51-28 at home as the Hurricanes scored their most points since a 70-3 victory over Florida A&M in the season opener.
This week, Miami (5-4, 2-3 ACC) will attempt to become bowl eligible by picking up a sixth win, as the Hurricanes travel to Charlottesville to take on Virginia. Last week, the Cavaliers (2-7, 1-4) lost another close game, 27-20 to Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, N.C. It was the second straight week that the Cavaliers lost by just a touchdown (fell to Louisville 32-25 the previous week).
Saturday will be the 14th time Miami and Virginia have played each other with the Hurricanes holding a slim 7-6 advantage in the series. In last year’s matchup in Miami, the Hurricanes defeated the Cavaliers 27-21.
Miami at Virginia
Kickoff: Nov. 12 at 2 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ACC Network/ESPN3
Spread: Miami -10.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Miami QB Brad Kaaya
During the Hurricanes’ four-game losing streak, Kaaya has struggled with five touchdown passes and three during that span. Last weekend against the Panthers, Kaaya had one of his best games of the season, completing 32 of 47 attempts for 356 passing yards and four touchdowns and he also ran for a touchdown.
Virginia comes into this game ranked 109th in the FBS in pass defense, allowing 271 yards per game. Miami also did a good job in pass protection last week against a Pittsburgh defense that is ranked in the top 10 in the nation in sacks, as Kaaya was brought to the turf just once. This coming after Kaaya was sacked 18 times during the four-game losing streak. If Kaaya can get the same type of protection he did against the Panthers, Kaaya should be able to make some things happen in the passing game.
2. Taquan Mizzell
Virginia’s senior running back just continues to break school records despite the team’s lack of success. After posting six receptions for 79 yards and a touchdown last week, Mizzell needs just 10 more receiving yards to become the first player in ACC history to have at least 1,500 career receiving yards and 1,500 career rushing yards.
Mizzell has at least one reception in 42 consecutive games, the third-longest active streak in the NCAA. Not only does Miami need to worry about Mizzell as a receiver out of the backfield, they can’t lose sight of his productivity as a running back. He has 607 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 119 carries this season.
3. Corn Elder
Miami’s top cornerback might be small in stature (5-10, 180), but he is probably the Hurricanes’ biggest impact player.
On the season, Elder has 56 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss, two sacks, an interception and nine pass breakups. Elder has just one interception, but that doesn’t change the fact he’s been one of the best cornerbacks in the nation this season.
Virginia quarterback Kurt Benkert will need to be aware of where Elder is on every down. Elder has the potential to create a turnover or two or make some sort of difference-making play on Saturday.
After snapping a long losing streak last weekend, Miami appears to be back on the right track heading into this game. If the Hurricanes can protect Brad Kaaya for the second straight week, that should also open up the running game. In last season’s win over Virginia, Miami ran for 143 yards and a touchdown on 33 carries. But the Hurricanes also have to be wary of this Virginia team despite its record, as the Cavaliers were able to hang around against both Louisville and Wake Forest before eventually succumbing.
Miami should put together a strong enough game on both sides of the ball to hold on for the victory to reach bowl eligibility in Mark Richt’s first season as head coach at his alma mater.
Prediction: Miami 34, Virginia 28
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.